Ha Giang Loop Guide: Northern Vietnam Motorcycle Adventure

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The Ha Giang loop was the highlight of our time in Vietnam, and one of our favorite experiences of the past year traveling throughout Southeast Asia! The landscapes you’ll see are unparalleled, you get to pass rural villages with friendly locals, the food is delicious, and best of all it’s quite budget friendly! It can be hard to find accurate information about the loop online, so we did our best to provide everything you need to build your own itinerary.

Check out the video of our journey on YouTube:

 
 

When to do the Ha Giang Loop

The cool and dry season in northern Vietnam runs from October or November through April. We visited in early April and it was already foggy with occasional rain. We’d recommend sticking to dry season and potentially avoiding December and January as it gets quite cold!

How to get to Ha Giang from Hanoi

There are regular buses from My Dinh bus station in Hanoi to Ha Giang city, where you’ll start your journey. Our tickets cost 430k VND/~$18 per person each way. The bus stops throughout town to drop passengers near their accommodation, but we slept through our stop and had to take a taxi from the bus station in the southwest corner of the city.

The journey is supposed to take around 6 hours but the buses in Vietnam are regularly quite delayed, and ours ended up 5 hours behind schedule, meaning we arrived at 6am instead of 1am like originally planned. We’d recommend taking a daytime bus and staying a night in Ha Giang city unless you’re able to sleep on buses. We were only able to sleep for about 3 hours before hitting the road, which was a pretty rough.

Renting a Scooter for the Ha Giang Loop

 
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There are many scooter rental shops in Ha Giang that cater to travelers planning to do the loop. If you stay in Ha Giang city, it’s likely that you can rent a scooter from your homestay (or they can point you to a place if not). We stayed (napped, really) at Ngan Ha Homestay and rented our scooter from them. You can also leave any extra bags you have at the homestay and pick them up when you’re done.

Our scooter was 150k VND per day. We chose the cheapest model available, which was semi-automatic. We also chose not to get the optional insurance. The rental will be more expensive if you need an automatic scooter or if you upgrade to a better bike (there were nice 250cc Yamahas available but we chose to go with the scooter because it had storage space and was more comfortable for 2 people).

Since we completed the loop, we’ve gotten quite a few messages on Instagram from other travelers who mentioned that rental shops and the police are quite strict about requiring International Driver’s Permit (including the motorcycle license) and are either not renting or not letting travelers leave Ha Giang city without a license. While I do have an IDP with motorcycle approval, our homestay didn’t check it. To avoid any issues, we recommend getting the license if you’re planning on traveling to Asia! It costs around $20 (assuming you have a motorcycle license in your home country) at AAA or your local equivalent.

How Long for the Ha Giang Loop

The entirety of the Ha Giang loop around 360km, depending on the exact route you take. You’ll find recommendations for anywhere from 3 to 5 days online. We completed the loop in 3 days/2 nights because the weather wasn’t great when we were there, but we’d recommend at least 3 nights for a more comfortable pace. It gets very dark after sunset and it’s hard to see the road, so it’s better to err on the side of having shorter days. There will also be plenty of photo stops and impromptu Vietnamese coffee breaks, and you’ll want to give your sore butt a break, so you may not make it as far in a day as you initially think!

Ha Giang Loop Route

 
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Before we left on the trip, we were given a map by our hosts with the main sights and some recommendations for accomodation. We did the loop clockwise, and it seemed like the majority of other people were doing the same.

The general route and main sights are as follows:

  • Ha Giang city

  • Heaven’s Gate/Quan Ba pass and Tam Son

  • Yen Minh

  • Doc Chin Khoanh (Nine Turn Pass)

  • Optional but recommended detour to Lung Cu

  • Dong Van

  • Ma Pi Leng pass

    • There’s an optional detour onto side road 193A to get closer to the river that takes about 30 minutes each way.

  • Meo Vac

  • Optional stop in Du Gia where there’s a small waterfall to visit!

  • Return to Ha Giang City

There are alternate roads you can take like the one into the neighboring Cao Bang province to avoid backtracking on the same route. This is only a rough guide!

Where to Stay on the Ha Giang Loop

 
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In the larger towns along the route (Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van, Meo Vac) you’ll find a variety of options for accomodation from hostels to basic hotels and plentiful local restaurants. In smaller towns, there will be places to stay but you’ll likely have less choice as to the quality. Very few places along the route can be booked online, but you shouldn’t have any problem with availability if you book when you get there as long as you arrive during the day when things are open.

Our recommendation: 

  • Day 1: Ha Giang city to Tam Son or Yen Minh. You could make it to Lung Cu/Dong Van depending on how early you hit the road.

  • Day 2: Tam Son/Yen Minh to Dong Van with a stop at the Lung Cu flag tower

  • Day 3: Ma Pi Leng Pass, and stay in Bao Lam or Du Gia. The pass is only 24km but is the most beautiful part of the journey. Expect to stop for photos frequently! It’s worth giving this section a whole day of its own.

  • Day 4: Return to Ha Giang. There are fewer towns in this stretch, so stop for food or gas earlier rather than later.

Because we wanted to finish the loop in 2 nights, our route was a little bit different. We left Ha Giang city around noon the first day and made it to all the way to Sister’s House in Lung Cu (which was amazing, they cooked us a huge dinner and were so friendly!) for the first night but had to drive the last 2 hours in the dark.

The second night, we stayed in at Little Yen’s Homestay in Meo Vac after a road closure and long detour leaving Lung Cu. On the last day, it was misting the whole day and we decided to make the trek all the way back to Ha Giang city (8 or so hours on the scooter) rather than risk having to ride in the rain the next day.

 
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Other tips from our experience

  • Be sure to bring layers, a rain jacket, and gloves if you have them! There’s nothing worse than being wet and cold when you still have hours of riding ahead of you.

  • Remember to download offline Google Maps before you start the loop! Phone service was ok for the most part but better safe than sorry.

  • Pro tip: we filled up our Hydroflask with hot tea in the morning and it was a lifesaver for when we stopped later!

  • Bring cash to pay for food, gas, and accomodation! Like most places in Vietnam, credit card is not widely accepted along the route. There is reportedly an ATM in Dong Van but we didn’t want to risk it.

 
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